Metro Monthly Digital Archive: May 2000 – Easy Street ‘Pumps’ up one more time

By GEORGE NELSON | Metro Monthly Staff Writer

For its annual Mother’s Day weekend show, Easy Street Productions is returning to its roots and reviving the show it successfully staged for 200 performances.

Not that anyone appears tired of “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” according to Easy Street founders Todd Hancock and Maureen Collins. Virtually every day, someone asks when they are bringing back “Pump Boys.”

“We hear it a lot, and the funny thing is we hear it a lot of times from people who didn’t see it,” Hancock observed. “I think we’re always going to be associated with that show just because it ran for so long, and really it was the catalyst for getting our whole company started.”

Local audiences got their first taste of “Pump Boys” in “429 Miles off Broadway,” a musical revue that featured several “Pump Boys” numbers. Those turned out to be the most popular segments of the show, so Collins and Hancock decided to stage the full show. After a six-week run at the Oakland Center for the Arts in spring 1989, Hancock and Collins took the show to the Uptown Theater, where they closed out after 200 performances, reviving it once at Powers Auditorium, where they are staging it once again.   

“For some reason, people just got right into it and they would just come back and back and back,” Hancock added.

Normally, Easy Street collaborates with Ballet Western Reserve for the Mother’s Day weekend show, but in April the ballet partnered with the Youngstown Playhouse to put on “Oklahoma!” With original cast members Robyn Elia McCamy already working out of town and Don Creque preparing to move from the area, Collins and Hancock wanted to try to get the original performers together one more time before the cast “got scattered all around the country,” Hancock said.

“It’s not like we’re never going to see them again, but it’s going to be more difficult to get the old gang together,” he said. 

The run won’t be a complete reunion of the original cast. Rick Blackson (“L.M.”) is unavailable due to a prior commitment, so David Jendre will replace him for the revival.

“David Jendre has been has been doing shows with us since ‘429 Miles Off Broadway,’ so if anybody was to fill in for L. M., he’s perfect,” Hancock said. “He might bring a whole new dimension to the character.

“We’re not asking him to be Rick’s clone,” he added. “We want him to do with the way he wants to do it.”

Jendre’s substitution isn’t the only change. Hancock noted that they also are “pumping up” the snow by adding three musicians. 

“When we were at the Uptown, it was fine for us to stamp our feet and bang pans and stuff like that,” he explained. “But at Powers? That’s going to get lost . . . Those three musicians are going to help so much on the music end of it. It gives Jeff [Saunders, musical director] a little more freedom, too, because he was bouncing back and forth to guitar and bass and banjo.”

Another adaptation to the new venue will be the addition of video screens to be used for close-ups during duets. Collins noted that the intimacy of the small venues was a key factor in “Pump Boys” success.

“Had we done ‘Pump Boys’ at Powers at first, it would never have been able to have the impact,” she said. 

“There are certain shows that need to be in a smaller space, and some that need to be in a bigger space,” Hancock agreed, “but with the changes we’re making to it, by beefing up the band, doing the video screens, I think we’ll be able to make this show that was so nice in a small space be fun and exciting in a big space, too.” 

Collins pointed out that one difference in the show will be from the passage of time for the cast. After all, none of the cast members are as young as they used to be. 

“I remember the show being very energetic. Now, just trying to sing that first act for me is not energizing, it’s exhausting,” Collins observed. “I think the 10 years that it’s added to all of our ages will provide just enough change to keep it pretty interesting.”

Both Hancock and Collins said they are pleased with the impact “Pump Boys” had 10 years ago, and that it is still so fondly remembered today.

“I remember being blown away by the encouragement that the community was giving us, and today we still hear from people,” Collins said. “That was kind of the catalyst. We had heard from so many people that they wanted to get pumped up just one more time.”

“I kind of pat ourselves on the back a little bit because I think we kind of started a whole new cycle of theater in town. The [Youngstown] Playhouse was always here and the Oakland was just getting started when we got started, but I think we got people in the habit of going to live shows versus movies,” Hancock said, drawing people who don’t traditionally go to theater. 

“When they heard it was about gas station attendants and waitresses, it wasn’t like they were going to go to the opera or something. So a lot of the husbands actually wanted to go to the theater with their wives, or they could bring their kids and not feel uncomfortable. It was one of those shows that just everybody enjoyed. It’s just a good time – six people have a party on stage – so that’s why we didn’t mind just running it and running it and running it,” Hancock said.

“Yeah, I was surprised. I was pleasantly surprised that people made it such a big hit, and I know that the royalty companies were very happy, too,” Hanccok added. “But it’s definitely rare, because shows even in New York and Chicago that get two-year runs are considered very lucky, and for Youngstown, Ohio to have a two-year run is unbelievable.”

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